Friday, October 13, Kenutu Island, Vava’u Group, Tonga
Last Thursday, October 5th, (9 nine days ago) Anthea placed first in the Whangarei Vava’u Challenge Cup Fun Race! The race took place on the fourth day of the five day Vava’u Blue Water Festival, whose key sponsors were the Whangarei Marine Group and Bay of Islands Marina in New Zealand, The Boatyard (Neiafu, Vava’u), Bank of the South Pacific, and many local businesses here in Neiafu. The purpose of the festival was to showcase Vava’u as a sailing locale, to learn about maritime services in New Zealand, and to support the further development of the Vava’u Blue Water Sailing School. To see pictures from the Challenge Cup Fun Race, check out the Vava’u Blue Water Festival facebook page (Anthea has the blue, red and white spinnaker). Anthea’s crew had a great day on race day, and thoroughly enjoyed the well planned and organized Festival.
Race day began with Anson rolling out of his birth at 6am, bright eyed and bushy tailed and full of energy (this is not a daily occurrence). He immediately retrieved lines from the port locker and began setting up the foredeck for the spinnaker set. He worked with an intensity that was a bit intimidating (especially for a fun race); Kim and I wondered if we might be locked below decks during the race while Anson brought aboard a bunch of sailing mates to race Anthea as she was “built to be raced.” Fortunately, that was not the case. However, we were happy to welcome aboard Nigel Clark, professional skipper of a large motorsailor (35 ton), who approached me during the skipper’s meeting about joining us as crew.
The start of the race was a bit unorthodox. Basically there was no starting line, and instead, after the skipper’s meeting was adjourned, all skippers high tailed it to their boats in their dinghies (though some swam), clambered aboard, and began the race. All boats were allowed to motor towards the green buoy at the harbor entrance. This approach avoided the chaos of having a starting line and seemed to work quite well.
We had a great race. It was a beautiful day in Vava’u – blue skies and sunshine, a fresh breeze (around 12-15 knots) and the protected, flat water that makes this archipelago such a marvelous place to sail. Anthea performed beautifully. We tend to sail Anthea well, and we know how to work together to bring out her best. Having Nigel on board was wonderful. He’s an experienced racer (including never losing a race to Dean Barker, helmsman of the New Zealand America’s Cup contender two cups ago). Throughout the race, Nigel offered sail trim and strategy suggestions that appreciably enhanced our performance. The onboard dynamics were excellent, and we worked together like a well-oiled machine. We rotated positions during the race and decisions were made in a collaborative manner. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect day.
The race course was about 23 nautical miles (as the crow flies), basically consisting of a downwind leg away from Neiafu to Tokokafonua Island, then a reach, followed by a long upwind leg back to Neiafu. Anson had rigged all the spinnaker lines perfectly. Soon after we cut our engine, up went the spinnaker sock and then the spinnaker itself was set and the jib furled. (We used our heavier asymmetrical chute as the wind was predicted to exceed the limit of our lighter symmetrical, and we thought we’d need to carry it closer to the wind then our symmetrical can handle.) Anthea responded to the increased sail area by surging ahead; Nigel was on the sheet, frequently calling for sheet trim – Devon and Anson took turns on the spinnaker sheet winch, grinding like maniacs whenever Nigel called “trim.” Anthea began to pull ahead of the competition (about 12 other cruising sailboats and catamarans), but we were still part of the pack. I was at the helm, with Kim in “the pit” on mainsail trim. Anthea had a bone in her teeth. We discussed strategy: how close to come to a windward island without getting stuck in the lee with no wind, how to play the current, and when to adjust the spinnaker pole. We were dead downwind for a good section of this leg; Anson made adjustments to the inboard end of the pole to bring it level with the clue and Kim and Devon adjusted the pole forward or back depending on our angle to the wind. The combination of Anthea’s downwind performance capability and our collective sailing skills enabled us to pull ahead of the pack. We dropped the chute just in time, prior to a blast of wind coming between two islands; Nigel helped Anson get the sock over the chute, aided by a new dousing block Anson had secured to the toe rail to enable him to haul down the sock without him getting pulled off the deck. We hardened up to a close reach and approached the leeward mark.
As we rounded Tokokafonua Island, the catamaran Citrus Tart passed us; they are a performance cat with substantial daggerboards and my, can they fly on a reach and point to windward! Thus began the upwind leg of the race. We shifted our race strategy, with as many crew as possible sitting on the windward rail, one in the pit and one at the helm. The challenge was to call the gusts before they arrived (header or lift) and for the helmsperson to respond appropriately (follow the lift or slide through or fall off for the header) and to claw our way to windward as fast and efficiently as possible. When Nigel took a turn at the helm, he noticed that our mainsail head was twisting off too much and that we needed to haul up the halyard a few inches; he was right and Anthea pointed just a bit better with the adjustment. Those of us not at the helm frequently looked back to check out the competition, especially worrisome were those cruising boats with more waterline length than us – their maximum upwind speed should be faster than ours. The one boat ahead of us was Citrus Tart, but that was ok, as we knew there were monohull and multihull divisions in this race. Amazingly, our lead over the rest of the fleet continued to increase. We didn’t get giddy though, as we know that “it’s not over till it’s over” and that anything can happen in a race. We continued pointing as high as possible without losing boat speed, tacking when necessary to avoid wind holes and to maximize the favorable current. The upwind leg is where Anthea shines, for she has an outstanding ability to point, reducing the number of tacks to the windward mark. For some reason, Citrus Tart did not complete a tack and appeared in irons, drifting into some shallow water – what was going on with them? After several minutes of drifting, they got going again, but appeared to have started their engine; as we closed in on them, we called out if they were ok and were told they were fine but had had winch troubles and were no longer racing (as it turned out, they had agreed to stop racing as they had won the multihull division twice before and had aboard key festival organizers from Bay of Islands and Whangarei – so winning it a third time would be in poor taste).
Anthea forged ahead. We tacked up the narrow channel leading into Neiafu Bay and, once through it, bore off the wind towards the mooring field where we started. The finish line involved someone leaving the boat, getting to shore, running to the Aquarium Café and signing the white erase board. We chose to sail through the mooring field, as close to land as possible, and when abreast of the café, Anson jumped overboard and swam with his powerful dive fins to the dock. While he raced for the finish we bore off the wind, dropped sails and picked up our mooring, while Devon hopped in the dinghy to fetch Anson. Twenty minutes later other competitors began to appear around the point, tacking their way into Neiafu Bay! We had handily won the race (with a margin of 29 minutes between us and the second place finisher, as it turned out).
What a great day it was! Generously, Nigel had brought a delicious lunch along for all of us (spaghetti with meat sauce and homemade bread). Over the meal we swapped sailing stories and further enjoyed his good company. That evening, Anthea’s win was recognized at the after race party, as well as at the closing party the next day. The winning prize is a free haul out and five days on the stands at Opua, Bay of Islands, for which we are very grateful. Plus “Anthea” will be engraved on the brass plate on the beautiful wooden trophy plaque that commemorates this annual festival.
This is the first blog post since I wrote of my mother’s death, September 23rd. It’s fitting for this first post to recount a glorious sailing day and a rousing win. Perhaps this is one way to honor her memory, for it resonates with my mother’s zest for life, her adventurous spirit, and her love of sailing and the ocean. After all, it was her, my father and one other crew member who braved strong winds and boisterous seas while other crew were seasick below, and successfully raced their Anthea around Santa Barbara Island one stormy night, back in the pre-GPS days when coastal navigation was by dead reckoning and Radio Direction Finder (RDF) fixes. As I noted in a prior blog, that night some of the seams in their wooden vessel opened up and they started taking on water – nevertheless, they pushed on, rounded the island in the dark of night, and completed the race, while many others turned back. Their accomplishment has been enshrined in family history, as perhaps our racing day here in Vava’u, will also. This one’s for you, Mummy. -Mark
Friday, October 13, Kenutu Island, Vava’u Group, Tonga